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‘Father, Son And Holy War’ By Anand Patwardhan: An Analysis Of Religion And Masculinity

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The movie, directed by filmmaker Anand Patwardhan, opened with visuals of fire lighting up the shops of Muslims and some Hindu men were overheard saying that the area is totally safe for Hindus and their shops. The man being interviewed by the filmmaker said that they (violence mongers) very well know which shop to burn and which not to because they have been living in the area for long enough to figure out which shop belongs to a Muslim. This shows how the social fabric of the society gets weakened and how all the threads which held this fabric together till date suddenly untie and tie to make knots to stop the progress of other threads in the fabric. Moreover, these men were enjoying the activity of burning down the shops of Muslims. They also said, “We are not afraid of anything,” because even the police was on their side.

The scene of the flames engulfing shops gave way to daybreak. The man who was being interviewed there said that he personally enjoyed looting the shops. Moreover, all of them were being advised to chant “Jai Shree Ram” while they were skedaddling away with the loot. The Hindu men who were being interviewed also used symbols like a sari to indicate that the Muslims were powerless. Though the mis-en-scene in the movie, as it keeps changing, shows various dialogues and perspectives, if one looks at the plot, it is packed with slur being thrown at women. The symbols related to women are chosen as symbols to depict the dominated one or the one who should be dominated.

Through speeches of leaders from various organisations, the movie clearly shows how political leaders led to deepening the lines of communal division amongst various communities. Be it the Shiv Sena asking Hindus to vote for only them, or be it the Sikhs demanding the formation of Khalistan. The movie then talks about the whole concept of “Sati” which, as a concept, should be highly appreciated by those who are sheep in the herd led by the misogynistic leaders for whom the subjugation of women is the only way to be a true Hindu.

The ‘Complete Hindu Man’

The movie is also a glaring account of how the concept of hegemonic masculinity is upheld. But a nuance in this depiction is that the movie keeps on depicting the various ways in which one can be a ‘complete man’ but there is not even one that the said Hindu society can put forward when asked for an example of being ‘a complete man, except Shree Ram or Shiv Bhagwaan. But if one looks at Shree Ram, nowhere does it say that he perpetrated violence, rather he is also called ‘Maryada Purushottam‘ which can be translated to be a man who carries high respect for a woman. What ideals are the Hindu men in the movie following, when they express their interest in being a rapist?

The interview of Kunwar Bajrang Singh Tanwar very clearly shows the repetition of history. It wasn’t too long ago when women started demanding to be freed from the shackles of patriarchy and any woman to do so was labelled as someone with a ‘loose virtue’. Even Bajrang Singh is seen rallying for the same kind of notion when he says that all women who have come out on roads against the satipratha are the ones with ‘loose virtue’. He also uses the proselytism card to buttress his argument that satipratha has been a part of Hindu culture since time immemorial and because the ‘foreigners’ can’t stand the glory of it, they are using a subversion strategy to deviate Hindus.

The kind of narrative being woven was that the women either had to be goddesses, that too gaining their power through a manly figure, or else they should be relegated to the lowest level of the society and everyone gets the right to toss slurs at them.

The media too had played a big role in the glorification of male domination. Men are projected as leaders in politics and armed forces, films always show the man as the authority figure. Even religion is defined under a frame of masculinity.

“Sacred Is Scared”

The kind of yarns that the Hindu “saints” spin are very clearly depicted in the movie. In a scene, a ‘sadhu’ can be heard saying that Hindus and weapons remain poles apart whereas, in the same a scene, a Hindu is seen carrying a khanjar with pride in a religious procession. Shambhu Maharaj clearly talks about how he had been influencing politics by using the threat of religion.

This kind of a narrative at once brings across the idea that ‘sacred is scared’. Had religion itself been powerful enough, it would not need a Shambhu Maharaj to make political leaders do what he wanted in the name of religion. There would be no need to put forward a smokescreen of religion’s power. It bamboozles one further because the leaders themselves fear the sacerdotal nature of religion (dharma) and do not dare go against the words of Shambhu Maharaj.

What one must scout for is the trick that religion plays to portray itself as powerful for the ones who then become a source of its power. The start has to be made with just a narrative about power to get those powerful figures to portray the religion to be even powerful.

The documentary reveals that it was not always the fear of religion that made it stronger, but it also got masses to rally around it by bribing them through the tactics like yagnas to conceive babies, etc. But the biggest bribe it put forward was that of the domination of men over women. The men were given a privilege in the name of religion. For example, only men were given the right to education under the Hindu religion.

Religion, in the way it is being propagated, is very conscious of creating an emergency system for itself to counter the threat of its fear being revealed. It divides people, not just as men and women but also on the basis of the strand of religion that they ascribe to.

It’s not just Hinduism but also Islam that relegates women to a status of the ‘weaker sex’ and always mandates for them the agency of a man for them to ‘feel’ empowered in a society. This is evident from the account of the Muslim woman in the film, who was divorced by her husband by the way of triple talaq. The interview of a Muslim man also reveals how it is regarded as normal to limit the woman to the household for housekeeping and child-rearing.

The woman goes on to show how weak religion was when juxtaposed with the law of the land. She also explains how practices like Sati and Triple Talaq should not compete with each other but be threaded together to be presented as proof in the case against exploitation of women through religion.

Unmasking The Evil 

Religion also drops the idea of ‘social solidarity” and further divides the people into compartments like Hindu, Muslim, Sikh etc. It urges them to show solidarity to only their own religion and not towards the others, thereby keeping the violence alive. The violence becomes extremely important for the religion to create a public spectre of one religion interfering with the other, which stops people from different religions to mingle with each other and further stops them from understanding the fact that the reality behind every religious purda or ghoongat is the same.

The documentary very clearly shows that violence once generated is difficult to stop, all that one can do is change its course within the intersectionality of the society. Therefore, the speaker in a particular scene can be seen making an effort to stop the religion based violence by diverting this violence towards class-based violence. Part one of the film ends with a new ray of hope though not the whole sunshine, because the song that brings it to an end brings out the duties of an empowered woman, but those duties not only included the duty to overthrow an exploitative government but also narrated duties like khana pakana (cooking food), and ghar chamkana (house-cleaning).

The Hero Pharmacy

The second part of the documentary opens with a huge crowd of men dancing with joy. The lady narrating in the background of the scene tells how men have taken over the religious domain and the social domain. According to me, the British also played a role in this male dominance coming to picture. When they arrived in India, they tagged Indian men as ‘effeminate’ because they were non-violent. This is what drove Indian men towards linking their identity to violence to show it to the British that they too were “manly” enough.

In this rush to “masculinise” different facets of life, even religion was stripped of its femininity and even if a goddess was portrayed, all she was seen doing was passing the baton to a male figure of authority. In the time of crisis when the men had to prove their masculinity, they took refuge under the names of powerful warrior kings like Shivaji, Maharana Pratap and others. In a rush to imitate them, these men started aping these leaders in a flawed way. They assumed that because these men fought Muslim leaders, all Muslims were enemy and killing them would add a feather to their cap of masculinity. This is what led to the formation of communal division lines.

The Shiv Jayanti Utsav shows a glaring account of how a woman’s body becomes a battleground for men to win the war of masculinity. A man in the film reveals that the statues of women bathing have been installed at various places in the utsav so that it reinstates the fact that Shivaji Maharaj was the one who was “masculine” enough to provide women with a safe bathing space on the banks of rivers. But this statement itself is a big weapon against the kind of masculinity that the men in the video are projecting, because these men are doing exactly the opposite of what Shivaji did, they are out there not only putting up a bathing woman for the male gaze but are also trying to derive a sense of pride by doing that.

One is left totally flabbergasted by the kind of thoughts an Indian man has on rape. In a scene, a man talks of rape as a recreational sport with the only criteria being that the woman he rapes shouldn’t be known to him. The man also says that people who only watch rape and do not do rape are not man enough. The idea of masculinity has become so deep-seated and toxic in the society that people started businesses of selling products like Sheelajeet in the name of making men more masculine. Here, masculinity is ascribed to the size and length of a man’s penis.

Hindus have also used the penis to exert a ‘higher’ masculinity over Muslims. They target the practice of circumcision among Muslim men and claim that since their penises are ‘incomplete’, they are lesser men. Hero pharmacy is a glaring example of overlapping masculinity and with sex. They claim that a man’s inability to ‘perform well’ during sex is the reason behind the birth of a girl child.

This further shows how even in the struggle for masculinity, it is the women who end up being oppressed more.  In the final minutes of the film, the account of a woman clearly reveals how even the police, which is supposed to stop violence, was perpetrating it by not taking action. The mention that the lady makes about the board which read that as the bodies of women had been ravaged in Surat same shall be done here in Bombay, is a perfect example of how bodies of women become battlefields.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

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A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
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Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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